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App Store Insiders: Jani Kahrama of Secret Exit on Adapting to the Changes

Posted by Jeff Scott on July 10th, 2013

Jani Kahrama is the founder of Secret Exit, begun in 2006. Secret Exit is the developer of some of the most innovative--and some of my favorite--games on the App Store, perfect examples of what you can do on the iOS platform like Zen Bound 2 and Stair Dismount. The company's latest game, Eyelord take a slightly more metal tack. All in all, its games have been downloaded 13 million times.

I fired off a few questions to Jani to get his take on the App Store 5th.

148Apps: How has the App Store changed your professional life?

Jani Kahrama, Founder at Secret Exit: The App Store is the single reason we (Secret Exit) exist as a gaming company. In our early years we evaluated the different options that were available, and App Store made the most sense for us because of its short approval time, monthly reporting and payouts, and iPhone itself, which was an interesting and unexplored territory for games.

148Apps: Since the release of your first app on the App Store, what has changed with the way you release a game.

Jani Kahrama: Probably far less than should have! It seems these days app discovery has polarized to either being featured by platform holders or to buying your users. We're not in a position to influence the former or rich enough to attempt the latter, so we're trying to find new ways to spread the word.

148Apps: In the five years since launch, the App Store has gone through considerable changes. The number of users has skyrocketed along with downloads, prices for paid apps has stabilized way lower than man expected, free to play has dominated the top grossing charts. If, knowing what you know about the App Store now, you could go back and influence your path five years ago, what would you say?

Jani Kahrama: At heart I still naively wish for a world where a quality game would be recognized and appreciated by an audience willing to pay a good price for it.

But when I put on my time-traveling bizdev hat, what else could I say but be the first to drop the price to one dollar, be the first to go free with IAP, and beat Supercell at clashing clans together :)

148Apps: What have you seen on the App Store, outside of apps published by
you, that has surprised you most?

Jani Kahrama: The overall randomness and variance of successful titles. Coming from a console gamer background, I was stuck with certain preconceptions on how games should look, feel and play. The App Store has time and time again proven me to challenge those notions.

Zen Bound 2 intro trailer

148Apps: Any predictions on what the App Store will be like five years from now?

Jani Kahrama: I am concerned with the ability of big companies to simply buy their way to the top of the charts with paid user acquisition. Unless that practice is limited in influence by platform holders, it may change the landscape to such where developers need big marketing companies or rich publishers to promote their games. Smaller independent companies will find it ever harder to compete in a business where the marketing costs of a game are higher than the development costs.

Thanks very much to Jani for his time. I enjoy it every time we speak.

[ Photo credit: Jon Jordan ]

New App: Eyelord, New Heavy Metal Match-3 From Secret Exit Out Now

Posted by Jeff Scott on October 20th, 2012

Eyelord is a bit of an anomaly for Secret Exit. Best known for their amazing contemplative puzzler Zen Bound and the even more amazing Zen Bound 2, Eyelord is the polar opposite, a fast paced eyeball-matching game set in a heavy metal hell. I guess hell can be fun, too!

Zen Bound 2

By Kevin Stout on May 4th, 2011
Great music and slow-paced gameplay in this meditative game.
Read The Full Review »

Zen Bound Re-Released; Temporarily Free

Posted by Chris Hall on November 19th, 2010
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Zen Bound 2 came out on the Mac and PC via Steam a few days ago, and to celebrate the launch, the original Zen Bound is free in the App Store for a limited time.

What? You say you already have Zen Bound? Well, not really. This new version of Zen Bound is being self published by Secret Exit and isn't attached to Chillingo in any way. After Chillingo was bought out by EA, a number of developers, most notably Rovio (Angry Birds), have left the Chillingo brand to self publish.

"The average customer tends to associate the publisher brand strongly with the game, leaving the developers into a situation where they are not known for their work. Even when the publisher plays fair and makes certain the developer is mentioned, this message has diminished reach beyond the eyes and ears of the industry." said Secret Exit's Jani Kahrama. "Certainly the change in publisher ownership brought an element of uncertainty into the whole matter, and having your game associated with a thirdparty was not what we considered to be in our best interests."

With this new release, the previous version of Zen Bound will not be updated anymore, so if you are interested in future updates to the App Store classic, it is imperative that you download the new version (again, it's free).

As for the Steam version of Zen Bound 2, it has been optimized for large HD screens (Secret Exit says that it looks good on a 100" projector), with improved textures, lighting, and shaders. The Mac version also supports multi-touch for the laptop trackpad or the Magic Trackpad, so experienced Zen Bound-ers should feel right at home with this new, larger version.

Zen Bound 2 Universal Is Unbound

Posted by Chris Hall on July 21st, 2010
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Widely regarded as one of the prettiest games with the best tactile controls out there, Zen Bound 2 just received a Universal update which makes it... even better. We just got word from Secret Exit that this Universal update has been approved -- it might take a couple hours to show up in the App Store.

Zen Bound 2 Universal is an update to the current iPad release that makes it compatible on the iPhone. It supports all devices with OS3.1+ and takes advantage of the graphics capabilities of the iPhone 3G and up.

If you are lucky enough to own an iPhone 4, the app gets the full retina display treatment, as well as extra tactile feedback upgrades that take advantage of the gyro sensor in controlling your rope. With the new update, Secret Exit "firmly stands" by the claim that Zen Bound 2 is the "most beautiful and tactile iPhone & iPad game ever".

If you don't own it already on the iPad, check out Zen Bound 2 Universal in the App Store at its new price of $2.99. And if you absolutely can't get enough of the game, you can now download the soundtrack for free from the website. Just don't listen at work... it may put you in a trance.

Stair Dismount Now Available For All

Posted by Ben Harvell on May 19th, 2010
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: NO PAIN NO GAIN :: Read Review »

If you’ve ever had the urge to push someone down a flight of stairs but didn’t want to deal with the legal proceedings that follow, Stair Dismount is for you.

The physics-based game from Secret Exit, the studio that created Zen Bound, has just been updated as a universal app meaning that it now runs natively on the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

Available for $0.99 on the App Store, the iPad version features a user interface optimized for the device which includes contextual menus and more detailed textures. Snapshots of your dismounts, which are a little gruesome but make up an integral part of the game, are also of higher quality when taken on the iPad.

For ragdoll physics and laughs aplenty, this is a must-have app for users of all iDevices.

iPad Game Preview: Zen Bound 2

Posted by Jeff Scott on March 30th, 2010

Zen Bound from Secret Exit on the iPhone was the most beautiful mobile game we've ever seen. So I'm just going to go ahead and call this -- Zen Bound 2 is the most beautiful iPad game available. Definitely the most beautiful we'll see at launch. Possibly the most beautiful we'll ever see.

While the game itself is more than peculiar, it's a wonderful puzzle game. As a matter of fact it's amazingly fun. The goal is to cover a 3D piece of some kind with a rope that has been soaked in paint. When the rope touches the piece, it spreads paint to the object. Cover the object in paint before the rope runs out. Inventive, amazing, and eye-poppingly beautiful.

We got a chance to see a near final build at GDC this year, running in the simulator. It's the same gameplay we know and love from Zen Bound, but there's more to love. Not only are there nearly nine times the beautiful pixels of this game, there are some new game play mechanics to enjoy. All in all, Zen Bound will be the app to show-off the iPad. Luscious textures, amazing lighting effects, and gorgeous colors.

Take a look at this example screen shot and more after the jump. Amazing!

Zen Bound 2 Coming To The iPad

Posted by Chris Hall on March 5th, 2010

Who would've guessed that one of the biggest App Store hits thus far would involve wrapping string around a wooden object? Apparently the success of the original Zen Bound even took developers by surprise. "We never expected the calm gameplay of wrapping wooden statues with rope to find such a great audience on the iPhone, much less win multiple awards over the year."

Fortunately for us, the team over at Secret Exit announced Zen Bound 2 today, and it is specifically being tweaked to take advantage of the iPad's graphic and size advantages. On top of that, Secret Exit has said that Zen Bound 2 "is both a sequel and a revision to the original, with more music from Ghost Monkey, new levels and new kinds of gameplay, but Zen Bound 2 also includes the original soundtrack and upgraded versions of all levels from the first game." Secret Exit expects Zen Bound 2 to launch right around the iPad launch date... my guess is that the launches will coincide. There's no video trailer yet, but there are a ton of screenshots after the break. Enjoy!

Secret Exit Games Sale, Big 'Stair Dismount' Update

Posted by Robert Corra on December 11th, 2009

Secret Exit recently lowered the price of both Zen Bound and Stair Dismount to celebrate being featured by Apple. Zen Bound has been in the app store since February, and is widely considered a showpiece app on the iPhone. It received our highest recommendation upon release, and is currently $1.99.

Stair Dismount was released in late November, and our only criticisms of the game were the lack of global leaderboards, the amount of levels, and no retention of created faces. An update was announced along with a $0.99 sale, and it looks to address all of these issues and more. Version 1.2.0 has already been submitted, and here is the official list of features:

  • Three new levels (with more crunch!)
  • Online leaderboards (OpenFeint)
  • In-game help
  • Many more Facebook taglines
  • iPod music library can now be accessed from the game
  • Minor control tweaks (better pinch)
  • Panoramic camera that shows off the levels in their full majesty! (main menu and level start)
  • Previously selected face is automatically in use every time the application is started
  • Quick Start button in the main menu, jumps straight to the previously selected level with the selected face
  • Visual polish all around

  • Stair Dismount

    + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
    By Robert Corra on November 25th, 2009
    Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: NO PAIN NO GAIN
    The latest title from Secret Exit confirms that one of life's simple pleasures is pushing a virtual dummy down a flight of stairs and letting the ragdoll physics fly.
    Read The Full Review »

    New Screenshots from Upcoming Release Zen Bound

    Posted by Jeff Scott on January 3rd, 2009

    Secret Exit, developers of Spin have sent us some new screenshots for their upcoming release Zen Bound. Zen Bound is scheduled to be released this winter but may be delayed as they are trying to make sure it is absolutely perfect. So far, the game looks fantastic. Zen Bound is a calm and meditative game of wrapping rope around wooden sculptures. Sounds different, but promises to be at the very least interesting.

    Hit the jump for the screen shots and a video of the gameplay.

    SPiN - The Silhouette Game

    iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
    By Jeff Scott on October 24th, 2008
    Our rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar :: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
    SPiN is a puzzle game where you must match the 3D shape with it's silhouette
    Read The Full Review »